3 ways to ensure 'alignment' is more than a platitude

You can no longer merely talk about aligning IT with the business. You need to take actionable steps to change the skills and culture in your organization.

“By helping identify how technology can change the business dynamics and move the organization more efficiently toward its objectives, IT becomes a foundation for competitive advantage,”

—Nigel Fenwick, a vice president and principal analyst serving CIOs at Forrester

True strategic alignment goes beyond commanding your staff to "align with the business" every quarter. Instead of repeating the same platitudes, incite a revolution among your IT staff. Turn your people into business thinkers, foster deep communications between IT and the business, and transform IT into a service provider.

"The most precious skill IT can bring to the organization is business knowledge and process understanding coupled with technology know-how," says Nigel Fenwick1, a vice president and principal analyst serving CIOs at Forrester. 'By helping identify how technology can change the business dynamics and move the organization more efficiently toward its objectives, IT becomes a foundation for competitive advantage."

Here are three important ways you can ensure your IT team stays in step with the business, instead of constantly trying to catch up.

  1. Enable business success Every member of your team must understand your company’s business strategy, goals, and initiatives for growth. They need to know key stakeholders and their plans to drive the business forward. And they must understand business fundamentals so they can participate in meaningful conversations with business users.
  2. Develop ace communications Invest in building your staff’s communications skills to successfully convey how IT projects drive business goals. This will enable both teams to dig into requirements with an understanding of how technology will be implemented and why. You’ll know you’re communicating effectively when business user adoption takes off and when you have minimal “shadow IT.”
  3. Create a service mentality Shift IT’s position in the company. Coach your staff to view the organization and each employee as their customer. Remind your team that they are, in essence, competing daily for business with others who are capable of doing their job. They need to provide better alignment, delivery, and service than a third-party provider can because of their deep understanding of your specific business.

    If you understand that you’re supplying a service to the internal customer, you change the way you interact with the rest of the company. You create a culture that enables IT to interact with the business side, just as any service provider works with a client.

CIO magazine’s 2013 State of the CIO Survey2 showed that IT, in general, is making headway in its relationship with the business: "Fewer CIOs this year say their company’s business stakeholders perceive their IT organization as a cost center lacking enterprise value (15 percent, versus 21 percent), while a higher percentage are viewed as business peers engaged in developing, not just enabling, business strategy (20 percent, versus 15 percent last year)."

Make sure your team keeps pace with this positive trend. When you’ve mastered these three steps and can more accurately define a project’s success in business terms, you’ll know IT is making significant contributions to the business and driving business value through innovation. Now that’s alignment.

To discover what alignment means for your IT department, watch "CIOs Driving More Business Value Today."

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